Bright Lights is a nonprofit organization that takes learning beyond the classroom by providing youth with unique, motivating, hands-on educational opportunities.
Bright Lights was founded in 1987 by two moms, Barbara Hoppe and Jan Dutton, wanting summer mental Olympics for their small children as they began to see budget cuts in the public school summer program. The concept grew from a graduate school project for Barbara and Jan, leaped onto the kitchen table, and took flight three months later. Both women equally funded the first year’s operation. They hired teachers with reputations in subject area expertise and with a strong ability to work with students in hands-on learning.
The first year, Lincoln Public School’s non-air-conditioned Hawthorne School was rented and 281 students enrolled in 28 camps. The second year, a board of directors was formed and the Articles of Incorporation and the organization’s By-Laws were adopted. Bright Lights applied for and received federal nonprofit 501(c)(3) status and the opportunity for the organization to enter into the fundraising arena. In the third year, the program moved to rented office space. Need-based scholarships were added.
Additional services to families now include Before Care and Lunch Care. Bright Lights continues its working relationship with Lincoln Public Schools by renting an elementary school building for the summer camps. The program has expanded to middle and high school buildings for some camps, including camps that require specialized labs. Additional community site locations (such as UNL, Innovation Campus, Pioneers Park and Holmes Lake) have enhanced learning, emphasized career awareness and allowed the program to expand camp offerings.
Both the number of students enrolled and the number of camps offered have increased significantly since the program started. In 1988, 474 students enrolled in 34 camps. In recent years, enrollment figures showed approximately 1,600 students enrolled with more than 2,200 registrations in about 125 half-day and full-day camps.
Student have always paid a program fee to attend camps. While these program fees provide approximately half of Bright Lights’ revenue, the remaining funding comes from generous foundations, businesses, community service groups, families and individuals within the community.